Three mistake of mylife
My readers, you that is, to whom I owe all my success and motivation. Mylife belongs to
you now, a...
Prologue
It is not everyday you sit in front of your computer on a Saturday morning and
get
an email like this:
From: Ahd_...
`Businessman?' she said as she finished reading the mail. She looked
pretty
shaken up too.
And it is from Ahmedabad,' I sa...
checked in. Maybe he is dead. Or maybe he is at home and this was a hoax,'
I said.
I was blabbering. I wanted help– for th...
'Just an option,' she said.
I think she is overcautious sometimes. I don't bite back.
'Yes, yes. I will,' I said and stare...
to get involved. Should we take six or eight?' She moved towards an oakwood set.
I protested that we rarely had so many gu...
I looked at the boy again. I had two instant urges– one, to ask him what
happened and two, to slap him.
`Don't look at me ...
I sat down next to him.
‘I do know what a friend is. Because I had two, the best ones in the world.'

One part
India vs So...
The last kick from Ish had smeared the blood from his nose across his face.
'And what do you think you are doing?' Ish's d...
'I'll go home to change and then we will go to Gopi, ok?' I said as Ishaan andOmi were still dancing.
Dancing after an Ind...
Yes, Ahmedabad is my city. It is strange, but if you have had happy times in acity for a long time, you
consider it the be...
Her snacks were great, but she was no businessman. Emotional people maketerrible businessmen. She
would sell on credit and...
My love for business began when I first started tuitions. It was amazing to seemoney build up. With
money came not only th...
'So you are not repeating the engineering entrance,' my mother came out of thekitchen. She raised
dough-covered hands, 'Yo...
Omi laughed.
'Whatever. Guys, you really need to listen today. And stop calling me Mr
Accounts.'
I ordered tea while the w...
'It will be a small retail store. Money for a shop deposit is a problem, so I need
Omi's help.'
'Mine?' Omi said.
'Yes, we...
'I'm in,' Omi smiled. 'I don't have to be a priest and I get to work from home.
I'm so in.'
'I won't handle money. I'll fo...
'Aunty' eyed us with suspicion.
'I was the team captain for all municipal schools in the area, aunty. I havepersonally cho...
I divided the money into four stacks. The first three stacks were fifteenhundred rupees each - the
money each of us could ...
thousand bucks.'
They ignored me as they discussed TV brands. I shook my head and outlined
my strategy for increasing reve...
Three
Apart from cricket, badminton was the other popular game in Belrampur. Infact, the girls only played
badminton. It w...
Yes, Ish has this ridiculous theory that India should win every match. 'Well, wedon't have to. It won't
be much of a game ...
'We come here to work, not to perform rituals,' I said. I now paid full rent every
month to be in this shop. Nobody told m...
'I am not telling you to leave everything. But get in touch with the greaterresponsibilities we have. We
are not just prie...
Another person may see the abandoned SBI branch as an eerie party venue.This used to be an old
man's haveli. The owner cou...
the taste improved considerably after half a bottle. As did everyone's mood.'I want to see this Ali kid. Three
customers h...
'Stud-boy,' Ish slurred, standing up, 'This business and its profit is all owed toStud-boy, Mr Govind
Patel. Thank you, bu...
'You ordered a crate with ten bottles. We drank three each. Where is the tenth
one?' Ish stood up swaying.
I stood as well...
'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a
virtuous war. So at s...
The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed
to react.
'But there is hope. You know where ...
it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk
twomiles to get w...
'Wow, that's some reaction,' 1 said, my mouth still open.
'And fun? If maths is fun, then getting a tooth extraction is fu...
'Sure,' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. She kept two pensparallel to the notebook.
She opened the first p...
'Well, you are going ahead, but let's see.' I looked around for a11 easy example.I noticed her
impeccably done-up room, tu...
Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle
once. Omi gave him a dirt...
equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are
hardliners. More Hindu ...
'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't
understand a few things an...
I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the
tutorial equivalent of cl...
Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle
once. Omi gave him a dirt...
equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are
hardliners. More Hindu ...
'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't
understand a few things an...
I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the
tutorial equivalent of cl...
Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle
once. Omi gave him a dirt...
equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are
hardliners. More Hindu ...
The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed
to react.
'But there is hope. You know where ...
it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk
twomiles to get w...
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Three mistak of my life

  1. 1. Three mistake of mylife My readers, you that is, to whom I owe all my success and motivation. Mylife belongs to you now, and serving you is the most meaningful thing I can do with mylife. I want to share something with you. I am very ambitious in my writing goals.However, I don't want to be India's most admired writer. I just want to be India'smost loved writer. Admiration passes, love endures. To Shinie Antony, a friend who has been with me all these years and whocritically reviews my work and ensures that it is fit for my reader's consumption. Myfamily, which continues to support me in all my ventures. Specially, my brother KetanBhagat for his critical feedback from Sydney and cricket freak brother-in-law AnandSuryanaryan who told me more about cricket than anyone else would have. The people of Gujarat, in particular Ahmedabad, where I spent some of the most wonderful and formative years of my life. My publishers Rupa and Co, who have fulfilled all my dreams and continue to pursue the goal of making India read. My friends in the film industry, who have given me a new platform to tell mystories from, and who teach me new things everyday, in particular Atul Agnihotri, RajuHirani, Alvira Khan, Sharman Joshi, Vipul Shah, Imtiaz Ali, Shirish Kunder, Farah Khan andSalman Khan. The Madras Players and Evam Theatre Group, who turned my stories into wonderful plays.My friends in the media, especially those who have understood my intentions for my country and are with me. My colleagues at Deutsche Bank, my friends in Mumbai and Hong Kong. God, who continues to look after me despite my flaws.
  2. 2. Prologue It is not everyday you sit in front of your computer on a Saturday morning and get an email like this: From: Ahd_businessman@gmail.com Sent: 12/28/2005 11.40 p.m. To: info@chetanbhagat.com Subject: A final note Dear Chetan This email is a combined suicide note and a confession letter. I have let people downand have no reason to live. You don't know me. I'm an ordinary boy in Ahmedabad whoread your books. And somehow I felt I could write to you after that. I can't really tellanyone what I am doing to myself - which is taking a sleeping pill everytime I end asentence - so I thought I would tell you. I kept my coffee cup down and counted. Five full stops already I m a d e t h r e e m i st ak e s ; I d o n' t wa n t t o g o i n t o d et a i l s . My suicide is not a sentimental decision. As many around me know, I am agood businessman because I have little emotion. This is no knee-jerk reaction. Iwaited over three years, watched Ish's silent face everyday. But after he refused myoffer yesterday, I had no choice left. I have no regrets either. Maybe I'd have wanted to talk to Vidya once more but that doesn't seem like such a good idea right now. Sorry to bother you with this. But I felt like I had to tell someone. You have ways to improve as an author but you do write decent books. Have a nice weekend. Regards Businessman – 17, 18, 19. Somewhere, in Ahmedabad a young 'ordinary' boy had poppednineteen sleeping pills while typing out a mail to me. Yet, he expected me to have anice weekend. The coffee refused to go down my throat. I broke into a cold sweat. ‘One, you wake up late. Two, you plant yourself in front of the computer first thing in the morning. Are you even aware that you have a family?' Anusha said. In case it isn't obvious enough from the authoritative tone, Anusha is my wife. I had promised to go furniture shopping with her– a promise that was made ten weekends ago. She took my coffee mug away and jiggled the back of my chair.‘We need dining chairs. Hey, you look worried?’ she said. I pointed to the monitor.
  3. 3. `Businessman?' she said as she finished reading the mail. She looked pretty shaken up too. And it is from Ahmedabad,' I said, 'that is all we know.' `You sure this isreal?' she said, a quiver in her voice. `This is not spam,' I said. `It is addressed tome.' My wife pulled a stool to sit down. I guess we really did need write extra chairs. `Think,' she said. `We've got to let someone know. His parents maybe.' `How? I don't know where the hell it came from,' I said. And who do we know in Ahmedabad?' `We met in Ahmedabad, remember?' Anusha said. A pointless statement, I thought. Yes, we'd been classmates at IIM-A years ago.‘ So?’ `Call the institute. Prof Basant or someone,' she sniffed and left the room. 'Oh no, the daal is burning.' There are advantages in having a wife smarter than you. I could never be a detective. I searched the institute numbers on the Internet and called. An operatorconnected me to Prof Basant's residence. I checked the time, 10.00 a.m. in Singapore,7.30 a.m. in India. It is a bad idea to mess with a prof early in the morning. `Hello?' a sleepy voice answered. Had to be the prof. `Prof Basant, Hi. This is Chetan Bhagat calling. Your old student, remember?' `Who?' he said with a clear lack of curiosity in his voice. Bad start. I told him about the course he took for us, and how we had voted him the friendliest professor in the campus. Flattery didn't help much either. 'Oh that Chetan Bhagat,' he said, like he knew a million of them. You are a writer now, no?' 'Yes sir,' I said, 'that one.' 'So why are you writing books?' 'Tough question, sir,' I stalled. 'Ok, a simple one. Why are you calling me so early on a Saturday?' I told him why and forwarded the email to him. 'No name, eh?' he said as he read the mail. 'He could be in a hospital somewhere in Ahmedabad. He would have just
  4. 4. checked in. Maybe he is dead. Or maybe he is at home and this was a hoax,' I said. I was blabbering. I wanted help– for the boy and me. The prof had asked a good question. Why the hell did I write books– to get into this? 'We can check hospitals,' Prof said. 'I can ask a few students. But a namesurely helps. Hey wait, this boy has a Gmail account, maybe he is on Orkut aswell.''Or-what?' Life is tough when you are always talking to people smarter than you. 'You are so out of touch, Chetan. Orkut is a networking site. Gmail users sign up there. If he is a member and we are lucky, we can check his profile.' I heard him clicking keys and sat before my own PC. I had just reached theOrkut site when Prof Basant exclaimed, 'Aha, Ahmedabad Businessman. There is abrief profile here. The name only says G. Patel. Interests are cricket, business,mathematics and friends. Doesn't seem like he uses Orkut much though.' 'What are you talking about Prof Basant? I woke up to a suicide note,written exclusively to me. Now you are telling me about his hobbies. Can youhelp me or...' A pause, then, 'I will get some students. We will search for a new youngpatient called G. Patel, suspected of sleeping pill overdose. We will call you if wefind anything, ok? 'Yes, sir,' I said, breathing properly after a long time. 'And how is Anusha? You guys bunked my classes for dates and flow forget me.' 'She is fine, sir.' 'Good, I always felt she was smarter than you. Anyway, let's find your boy,' the prof said and hung up. Besides furniture shopping, I had to finish an office presentation. My boss,Michel's boss was due from New York. Hoping to impress him Michel asked meto make a presentation of the group, with fifty charts. For three consecutivenights last week I had worked until 1:00 a.m., but had gotten only halfway. 'This is a suggestion. Don't take it the wrong way. But do consider taking a bath,' my wife said. I looked at her.
  5. 5. 'Just an option,' she said. I think she is overcautious sometimes. I don't bite back. 'Yes, yes. I will,' I said and stared at the computer again. Thoughts darted through my head. Should I call some hospitals myself?What if Prof Basant dozed off again? What if he could not collect thestudents? What if G. Patel was dead? And why am I becoming so involvedhere?I took a reluctant shower. I opened the office presentation, but found myself unable to type a single word. I refused breakfast, though regretted it moments later– as hunger and anxiety did not go well together. My phone rang at 1.33 p.m. `Hello,' Prof Basant's voice was unmistakable. 'We have a match at Civil Hospital.His name is Govind Patel, twenty-five years of age. A second-year student of minefound him.' ‘And?' ‘And he is alive. But won't talk. Even to his family. Must be in shock.’ ‘What are the doctors saying?’ I said. 'Nothing. It is a government hospital. What do you expect? Anyway, they willflush his stomach and send him home. I won't worry too much now. Will ask a studentto check again in the evening.' 'But what is his story? What happened?' All that I don't know. Listen, don't get too involved. India is a big country.These things happen all the time. The more you probe, the more the chances of thepolice harassing you.' Next, I called the Civil Hospital. However, the operator did not know about the case and there was no facility to transfer the line to the ward either. Anusha, too, was relieved that the boy was safe. She then announced the plan for the day– the dining chair hunt. It would begin at Ikea on Alexandra Road. We reached Ikea at around three o'clock and browsed through the spacesavingdining sets. One dining table could fold four times over and become a coffee table–pretty neat. 'I want to know what happened to the twenty-five-year-old businessman,' I muttered. 'You will find out eventually. Let him recover. Must be one of those crazy reasons of youth– rejection in love, low marks or drugs.' I stayed silent. 'C'mon, he just emailed you. Your ID is on your book cover. You really don't need
  6. 6. to get involved. Should we take six or eight?' She moved towards an oakwood set. I protested that we rarely had so many guests at home. Six chairs would be enough. 'The marginal capacity utilisation of the two chairs would be less than ten per cent,' I said. 'You men are least helpful,' she tossed back and then selected six chairs. My mind strayed back to the businessman. Yes, everyone was right. I shouldn't get involved. But yet, of all the people in the world, this boy had sent me his last words. I couldn't help but get involved. We ate lunch in the food court next to Ikea. 'I have to go,' I told my wife as I played with my lemon rice. 'Where? To the office. Ok, you are a free man now. I did my shopping,' my wife said. 'No. I want to go to Ahmedabad. I want to meet Govind Patel.' I did not meet her eye. Maybe I was sounding crazy. ‘Are you nuts?’ I think it is only in my generation that Indian women started slamming their husbands. 'My mind keeps going back,' I said. 'What about your presentation? Michel will kill you.' 'I know. He won't get promoted unless he impresses his boss.' My wifelooked at me. My face was argument enough. She knew I would not talk sense until Ihad met the boy. 'Well, there is only one direct flight at 6 p.m. today. You can check the tickets.' She dialled the Singapore Airlines number and handed me the phone. I entered the room the nurses had led me to. The eerie silence and thedarkness made my footsteps sound loud. Ten different instruments beeped and LEDlights flickered at regular intervals. Cables from the instruments disappeared intothe man I had travelled thousands of miles to see– Govind Patel. I noticed the curly hair first. He had a wheatish complexion and bushy eyebrows. His thin lips had turned dry because of the medicines. `Hi, Chetan Bhagat ... the writer you wrote to,' I said, unsure if he could place me. `O ... How did ... you find me?' he said, finding it difficult to speak. `Destined to, I guess,' I said. I shook hands and sat down. His mother came into the room. She looked sosleep-deprived, she could use a sleeping pill herself. I greeted her as she went out toget tea.
  7. 7. I looked at the boy again. I had two instant urges– one, to ask him what happened and two, to slap him. `Don't look at me like that,' he said, shifting in his bed, 'you must be angry. Sorry, I should not have written that mail.' ‘Forget the mail. You should not have done what you did.' He sighed. He took a hard look at me and then turned his gaze sideways. `I have no regrets,' he said. `Shut up. There is nothing heroic in this. Cowards pop pills.' `You would have done the same, if you were in my place.' `Why? What happened to you?' `It doesn't matter! We fell silent as his mother returned with tea. A nurse came in and told his mother to go home, but she refused to budge. Finally, the doctor had to intervene. She left at 11.30 p.m. I stayed in the room, promising the doctor I would leave soon. `So, tell me your story,' I said, once we were alone. `Why? What can you do about it? You can't change what happened,' he said tiredly. `You don't just listen to stories to change the past. Sometimes, it is important to know what happened.' `I am a businessman. To me, people only do things out of self-interest. What's in it for you? And why should I waste my time telling you anything?' I stared at the soft-skinned face that hid such hardness inside. `Because I will want to tell others,' I said. There, that was my incentive. And why would anyone care? My story is not trendy or sexy like the IITs and call centres.' He removed the quilt covering his chest. The heater and our conversation kept the room warm. `I think they will care,' I said, 'a young person tried to kill himself. That does not seem right.' `No one gives a fuck about me.' I tried, but found it difficult to be patient. I considered slapping him again. A nurse came peeking into the room on hearing my loud voice. We became quiet. The clock showed midnight. He sat there stunned. Everyone had behaved nicely with him today. I stood up and turned away from him. ‘I know what a friend is,' he said at last.
  8. 8. I sat down next to him. ‘I do know what a friend is. Because I had two, the best ones in the world.' One part India vs South Africa 4th ODI, Vadodra 17 March 2000 Over 45 `Why the fuck did you have to move?' Ishaan's scream drowned out the stadium din on the TV. I had shifted up to a sofa from the floor. —`Tendulkar's gone. Fuck, now atth is stage. Omi, don't you dare move now. Nobody moves for the next five overs.' Over 46 'You don't know this team. Tendulkar goes, they panic. It isn't about the average. It is like the queen bee is dead, and the hive loses order,' Ishaan said. Omi nodded, as he normally does to whatever Ishaan has to say about cricket. 'Anyway, I hope you realise, we didn't meet today to see this match. We have to decide what Mr Ishaan is doing about his future, right?' I said. However, today I had a plan. I needed to sit them down to talk about our lives. Of course, against cricket, life is second priority. 'Later,' Ishaan said, staring avidly at a pimple cream commercial. 'Later when Ishaan? I have an idea that works for all of us. We don't have a lot of choice, do we?' 'All of us? Me, too?' Omi quizzed, already excited. Idiots like him love to be part of something, anything. However, this time we needed Omi. 'Yes, you play a critical role Omi. But later when Ish? When?' 'Oh, stop it! Look, the match is starting. Ok, over dinner. Let's go to Gopi,' Ish said. 'Gopi? Who's paying?' I was interrupted as the match began. Beep, beep, beep. The horn of a car broke our conversation. A car zoomed outside the pol. 'What the hell! I am going to teach this bastard a lesson,' Ish said, looking out the window. 'What's up?' 'Bloody son of a rich dad. Comes and circles around our house everyday' 'Why?' I said. 'For Vidya. He used to be in coaching classes with her. She complained about him there too,' Ish said. Beep, beep, beep, the car came near the house again. 'Excuse me, your headlight is hanging out.' 'Really?' the boy said and shut off the ignition. He stepped outside and came to the front. 'What's your problem,' the boy said, blood spurting out of his nose. 'You tell me what's up? You like pressing horns?' Ish said. The boy shivered in pain and fear. What would he tell his daddy about his broken car and face? Ish's dad heard the commotion and came out of the house. Ish held the boy in with his knee and released him. The boy kneeled on the floor and sucked in air.
  9. 9. The last kick from Ish had smeared the blood from his nose across his face. 'And what do you think you are doing?' Ish's dad asked him. 'Teaching him a lesson,' Ish said and unhooked his bat stuck in the windscreen. 'Really, when will you learn your lessons?' Ish's dad said to him. Ish turned away. 'You go now,' Ish's dad said to the beeping driver, who folded his hands. Seeing that no one cared about his apology, he trudged back to his car. Ish's dad turned to his neighbours. 'For one whole year he's been sitting athome. Ran away from the army of his own country and then wants to teachlessons to others! He and his loafer friends hanging around the house all daylong.' One sidelong glance at his dad and Ish walked back home. the hell are you going now?' Ish's dad said. 'Match. Why? You want to curse me some more?' Ish said. 'When you've wasted your entire life, what's another day?' Ish's father said and the neighbours half-nodded their heads in sympathy. We missed the final five overs of the match. Luckily, India won and Ish didn't get that upset. 'Yes, yes, yes,' Ishaan jumped. 'Gopi on me tonight.' I love idiots. Actually, Ishaan is not an idiot. At least not as much as Omi. It is just thatboth of them suck at studies, especially maths, and I am good at it. Hence, I havethis chip on my shoulder. It does sound a bit conceited, but it is the only chip onmy shoulder. For instance, I am easily the poorest of the three (though I will bethe richest one day), even though Ishaan and Omi aren't particularly wealthy.Ishaan's dad works in the telephone exchange, and while they have lots of phonesin the house, the salary is modest. Omi's dad is the priest of the Swamibhaktitemple, which actually belongs to Omi's mom's family for generations. And thatdoes not pay well either. But still, they are a lot better off than me and my mom.My mom runs a small Gujarati snacks business, and the little bit of money Imake from tuitions helps us get by, but that's about it. 'We won, we won the series 3-1,' Omi repeated what he read on the TV screen.Of course, it would have been too much for him to express such original insight.Some say Omi was born stupid, while some say he became stupid after a corkball hit him on the head in Class VI. I didn't know the reason, but I did know thatmaybe the best idea for him would be to become a priest. He wouldn't have muchof a career otherwise, given that he barely scraped through Class XII, afterrepeating the maths compartment exam twice. But he didn't want to be a priest,so my plan was the best one. I ate the khakra. My mother made it better than Ishaan's mom. We were professionals after all.
  10. 10. 'I'll go home to change and then we will go to Gopi, ok?' I said as Ishaan andOmi were still dancing. Dancing after an Indian victory was a ritual we hadstarted when we were eleven, one that should have stopped by thirteen. However,here we were at twenty-one, jigging like juveniles. Ok, so we won, someone hadto. In mathematical terms, there was good probability - did it really needjumping around? I walked back home. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Myhouse and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. Everything in my world fellbetween this distance. I passed I walked back home. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Myhouse and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. Everything in my world fellbetween this distance. I passed I walked back home. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Myhouse and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. Everything in my world fellbetween this distance. I passed I walked back home. The narrow lanes of the old city were bustling with the evening crowd. Myhouse and Ishaan's were only half a kilometre apart. Everything in my world fellbetween this distance. I passed by the Nana Park, extra packed with kids playingcricket as India had won the match. I played here almost every day of my school life. We still come here sometimes, but now we prefer the abandoned bank branch compound near my home. A tennis ball landed at my feet. A sweaty twelve-year-old boy came running tome. I picked up the ball for him. Nana Park is where I had first met Ishaan andOmi, over fifteen years ago. There was no dramatic moment that marked the startof our friendship. Maybe we sized each other up as the only six-year-olds in theground and started playing together. Like most neighbourhood kids, we went to the Belrampur Municipal School,hundred metres down Nana Park. Of course, only I studied while Ish and Omi ranto the park at every opportunity. Three bicycles tried to overtake each other in the narrow by lane. I had to stepinside Qazi restaurant to let them pass. A scent of fried coriander and garlic filledthe narrow room. The cook prepared dinner, a bigger feast than usual as Indiahad won the match. Ishaan and I came here sometimes (without telling Omi, ofcourse) for the cheap food and extraordinary mutton. The owner assured us'small mutton', implying goat and not beef. I believed him, as he would not havesurvived in the neighbourhood if he served beef. I wanted to eat here instead ofGopi. But we had promised Gopi to Omi, and the food was fantastic there as well.Food is a passion here, especially as Gujarat is a dry state. People here get drunkon food.
  11. 11. Yes, Ahmedabad is my city. It is strange, but if you have had happy times in acity for a long time, you consider it the best city in the world. I feel the sameabout Ahmedabad. I know it is not one of those hip cities like Delhi, Bombay orBangalore. I know people in these cities think of Ahmedabad as a small town,though that is not really the case. Ahmedabad is the sixth largest city in India,with a population of over five million. But I guess if you have to emphasise theimportance of something, then it probably isn't as important in the first place. Icould tell you that Ahmedabad has better multiplexes than Delhi or nicer roadsthan Bombay or better restaurants than Bangalore - but you will not believe me.Or even if you do, you won't give a damn. I know Belrampur is not Bandra, butwhy should I defend being called a smalltown-person as if it is a bad thing? Afunny thing about small towns is that people say it is the real India. I guess theydo acknowledge that at one level the India of the big cities is fake. Yes, I am fromthe old city of Amdavad and proud of it. We don't have as many fashion showsand we still like our women to wear clothes. I don't see anything wrong with that. I stepped out of Qazi and continued my way home, turning in the pol towardsOmi's temple. Of course, we called it Omi's temple because he lived there, but theofficial name was the Swamibhakti temple. As I entered the by lane, two peoplefought over garbage disposal around the crammed pol. There are things about my small town neighbourhood that I want to change. Insome ways, it is way behind the rest of Ahmedabad. For one, the whole old citycould be a lot cleaner. The new city across the other side of the Sabarmati riverhas gleaming glass and steel buildings, while the old city finds it difficult to getrubbish cleared on time. I want to change another thing. I want to stop the gossip theories people comeup with about other people. Like the theory about Omi becoming stupid Because a cricket ball hit him. There is no basis for it, but every pol in Belrampur talksabout it. Or the theory that Ish was thrown out of NDA and did not run away. Iknow for a fact that it is not true. Ish cannot handle unquestioned authority, andeven though he was really excited about the army (which was his only option), hecould not stand some Major ordering him around for the next two decades of hislife. So he paid the penalty, cited personal reasons like ailing parents orsomething and ran right back to Belrampur. And of course, what I want to stop the most - the weirdest theory that I becameemotionless the day dad left us. Dad left mom and me over ten years ago, for wefound out he had a second wife across town. As far as I can remember, I wasnever good with emotional stuff. I love maths, I love logic and those subjects haveno place for emotion. I think human beings waste too much time on emotions.The prime example is my mother. Dad's departure was followed by months ofcrying with every lady in every pol coming down to sympathise with her. Shespent another year consulting astrologers as to which planet caused dad to moveout, and when would that position change. Thereafter, a string of grandauntscame to live with her as she could not bring herself to stay alone. It wasn't until Iturned fifteen and understood how the world worked that I could coax her intoopening the snacks business. Of course, my coaxing was part of it, the rest of itwas that all her jewellery was officially sold by then.
  12. 12. Her snacks were great, but she was no businessman. Emotional people maketerrible businessmen. She would sell on credit and buy on cash - the firstmistake a small business can make. Next, she would keep no accounts. Thehome spending money was often mixed with the business money, and wefrequently had months where the choice was to buy either rice for ourconsumption or black pepper for the papads. Meanwhile, I studied as much as I could. Our school was not Oxford, andemphasis on studies was low with more teachers bunking classes than students.Still, I topped maths every single year. People thought I was gifted when I hit ahundred in maths in class X. For me, it was no big deal. For once, the gossip vinehelped. The news of my score spread across pols, and we had a new source ofincome - tuitions. I was the only maths tutor in Belrampur, and bad mathsscores had reached epidemic proportions. Along with khaman and khakra,trigonometry and algebra became sources of income in the Patel household. Ofcourse, it was a poor neighbourhood, so people could not pay much. Still, anotherthousand bucks a month was a lifestyle changing event for us. From fan, wegraduated to cooler. From chairs, we went to a secondhand sofa. Life becamegood. I reached Omi's temple. The loud rhythmic chime of the bell interrupted mythoughts. I checked my watch, it was 6 p.m., the daily aarti time. I saw Omi's dadfrom a distance, his eyes closed as he chanted the mantras. Even though I wasan agnostic, there was something amazing about his face - it had genuine feelingfor the God he prayed to. No wonder he was among the most liked people in thecommunity. Omi's mother was beside him, her maroon saree draped along herhead and hands folded. Next to her was Bittoo Mama, Omi's maternal uncle. Hewas dressed in a white dhoti and saffron scarf. His huge biceps seemed evenlarger with his folded hands. His eyes, too, were transfixed in genuine admirationfor the idols of Krishna and Radha. Omi would get into trouble for reaching the aarti late. It would not be the first time though, as matches in Nana Park were at a crucial stage around 6 p.m. 'How was the match?' mom said as I reached home. She stood outside the house. She had just finished loading a hired auto with fresh dhokla for a marriageparty. Finally, my mother could delegate routine tasks like delivery and focus onher core competence - cooking. She took out a dhokla piece from the auto for me.Bad business - snucking out something from a customer order. 'Great match. Nail-biting finish, we won,' I said, walking in. I switched on the tubelight inside. The homes in our pol required light even during daytime. 'If I have a good Diwali season, I will get you a colour TV,' mom vowed. 'No need,' I said. I removed my shoes to get ready for a shower, 'you need a bigger grinder urgently, the small one is all wobbly' 'I will buy the TV if only the business makes extra money,' she said. 'No. If you make extra money, put it back in the business. Don't buy useless things. I can always see the match in colour in Ishaan's house.' She left the room. My mother knew it was futile arguing with me. Without dadaround, it was amazing how much say I had in the house. And I only hoped Ishand Omi would listen to my proposition as well.
  13. 13. My love for business began when I first started tuitions. It was amazing to seemoney build up. With money came not only things like coolers and sofas but alsothe most important stuff - respect. Shopkeepers no longer avoided us, relatives re-invited us to weddings and our landlord's visit did not throw us into turmoil. Andthen there was the thrill - I wasmak ing money, not earning it under some boss orgetting a handout. I could decide my fate, how many students to teach, how manyhours per class - it wasmy decision. There is something about Gujaratis, we love business. And Ambadadis love itmore than anything else. Gujarat is the only state in India where people tend torespect you more if you have a business than if you are in service. The rest of thecountry dreams about a cushy job that gives a steady salary and providesstability. In Ahmedabad, service is for the weak. That was why I dreamt mybiggest dream - to be a big businessman one day. The only hitch was my lack ofcapital. But I would build it slowly and make my dream come true. Sure, Ishcould not make his dream of being in the Indian cricket team real, but that was astupid dream to begin with. To be in the top eleven of a country of a billion peoplewas in many ways an impossible dream, and even though Ish was top class inBelrampur, he was no Tendulkar. My dream was more realistic, I would startslow and then grow my business. From a turnover of thousands, to lakhs, tocrores and then to hundreds of crores. I came out of the shower and dressed again. "Want to eat anything?' my mother voiced her most quoted line from the kitchen. 'No, I am going out with Ish and Omi to Gopi.' 'Gopi? Why? I make the same things. What do you get at Gopi that I can't give you at home?' Peace and quiet, I wanted to say. 'It's Ish's treat. And I want to talk to them about my new business.'
  14. 14. 'So you are not repeating the engineering entrance,' my mother came out of thekitchen. She raised dough-covered hands, 'You can take a year to prepare. Stoptaking tuitions for a while, we have money now.' My mother felt guilty about a million thingsOne of them was me not making itto a good engineering college. Tuitions and supporting my mom's business meantI could study less for the entrance exams. I didn't make it to IIT or any of the topinstitutes. I did make it to a far-flung college in Kutch, but it wasn't worth it to leave my tuition income, friends, cricket at Nana Park and mom for that.Not that I felt any emotion, it just did not seem like the right trade. I could domaths honours right here in Amdavad University, continue tuitions and thinkabout business. The Kutch college did not even guarantee a job. 'I don't want to be an engineer, mom. My heart is in business. Plus, I have already done two years of college. One more and I will be a graduate.' 'Yes, but who gives a job to a maths graduate?' It was true. Maths honours was a stupid course to take from an economic point of view. 'It is ok. I needed a degree and I can get it without studying much,' I said. 'I am a businessman, mom. I can't change that.' My mother pulled my cheeks. Chunks of dough stuck to my face. 'Be whatever. You are always my son first.' She hugged me. I hated it. I hate a display of emotion more than emotion itself. 'I better go.' That is your tenth chapatti,' Ish told Omi. 'Ninth. Who cares? It is a buffet. Can you pass the ghee please?' 'All that food. It has to be bad for you,' Ish said. 'Two hundred push-ups.' Omi said. 'Ten rounds of Nana Park. One hour atBittoo Mama's home gym. You do this everyday like me and you can hog withoutworry.' People like Omi are no-profit customers. There is no way Gopi could make money off him. 'Aamras, and ras malai. Thanks,' Omi said to the waiter. Ish and I nodded for the same. 'So, what's up? I'm listening,' Ish said as he scooped up the last spoon of aamras. 'Eat your food first. We'll talk over tea,' I said. People argued less on a full stomach. 'I am not paying for tea. My treat is limited to a thali,' Ishaan protested. 'I'll pay for the tea,' I said. 'Relax, man. I was only joking. Mr Accounts can't even take a joke. Right, Omi?'
  15. 15. Omi laughed. 'Whatever. Guys, you really need to listen today. And stop calling me Mr Accounts.' I ordered tea while the waiter cleared our plates. I am serious, Ish. What do you plan to do with your life? We are not kids anymore,' I said. 'Unfortunately,' Ish said and sighed. 'Ok, then. I will apply for jobs, maybe doan NIIT computer course first. Or should I take an insurance job? What do youthink?' I saw Ish's face. He tried to smile, but I saw the pain. The champion batsmanof Belrampur would become an insurance salesman. Belrampur kids had grownup applauding his boundaries at Nana Park. But now, when he had no life ahead,he wanted to insure other people's lives. Omi looked at me, hoping I'd come up with a great option from Santa's goodie bag. I was sick of parenting them. 'I want to start a business,' I began. 'Not again,' Ish said. 'I can't do that man. What was it the last time? A fruitdealership? Ugh! I can't be weighing watermelons all day. And the crazy one afterthat, Omi?' 'Car accessories. He said there is big money in that,' Omi said as he slurped his dessert. 'What? Put seat covers all day. No thanks. And the other one - stock broker. What is that anyway?' Ish shrugged. 'So what the fuck do you want to do? Beg people to buy insurance? Or sellcredit cards at street corners? You, Ish, are a military school dropout,' I said andpaused for breath. 'And you got a compartment in Class XII, twice. You can be apriest, Omi, but what about us?' I don't want to be a priest,' Omi said listlessly. 'Then, why do you oppose me even before I start? This time I have something that will interest you.' 'What?' Ish said. 'Cricket,' I said. 'What?' both of them said in unison. 'There you go, nice to get your attention. Now can I talk?' 'Sure,' Ish waved a hand. 'We are going to open a cricket shop,' I said. I deliberately left for the rest room. 'But how?' Omi interrogated when I returned. 'What is a cricket shop?' 'A sports store really. But since cricket is the most popular game in Belrampur, we will focus on that.' Ish's silence meant he was listening to me.
  16. 16. 'It will be a small retail store. Money for a shop deposit is a problem, so I need Omi's help.' 'Mine?' Omi said. 'Yes, we will open the shop right inside the Swami temple complex. Next to theflower and puja shops. 1 noticed an empty shop there. And it is part of the templeland.' 'A cricket shop in a temple complex?' Ish questioned. 'Wait. Omi, do you think you can arrange that? Without that our plan is«a nonstarter.' 'You mean the Kuber sweet shop that just closed? The temple trust will rent itout soon. And normally they let it out to something related to temple activities,'Omi said. 'I know. But you have to convince your dad. After all he runs the temple trust.' 'He does, but Mama looks after the shops. Will we pay rent?' 'Yes,' I sighed. 'But not immediately. We need a two-month waiver. And we cannot pay the deposit.' 'I'll have to go through mom,' Omi said. Good, his mind was working. 'Sorry to ask again, but a cricket shop in a temple complex? Who will buy? Seventy-year-old aunties who come for kirtan will want willow bats?' Ish scoffed. The waiter had cleared our tea and presented the bill. By Gopi protocol, we had to be out of the restaurant in two minutes. 'Good question. A cricket shop by a temple does sound strange. But think - is there any sports shop in Belrampur?' 'Not really. You don't even get leather balls. Ellis Bridge is the nearest,' Ish said. 'See, that's number one. Number two, the temple is a family place. Kids are among the most bored people in temples. Where are they going to hang out?' 'It is true,' Omi said. 'That is why so many balloon wallahs hover outside.' 'And that is where Ish comes in. People know you were a good player. And youcan give playing tips to every kid who comes to buy from us. Slowly, ourreputation will build.' 'But what about Christian or Muslim kids? They won't come, right?' Ish said. 'Not at first but the shop is outside the temple. As word spreads, they will come. What choice do they have anyway?' 'Where will we get what we sell?' Ish said. 'There's a sports equipment supplier in Vastrapur who will give us a month's credit. If we have the space, we are good to go without cash.' 'But what if it doesn't run?' Ish asked with scepticism. 'Worst case, we sell the stock at a loss and I'll cover the rest through my tuition savings. But it will work, man. If you put your heart into it, it will.' Both of them remained silent. 'Guys, please. I need you for this. I really want to run a business. I can't do it without partners. It's cricket,' I appealed to Ish.
  17. 17. 'I'm in,' Omi smiled. 'I don't have to be a priest and I get to work from home. I'm so in.' 'I won't handle money. I'll focus on the cricket,' Ish said. I smiled. Yes, he was coming around. 'Of course. You think I will let you handle cash? So, are we partners?' I stretched out my liand. Omi hi-fived me and Ish joined in. 'What are we going to call it?' Omi said in the auto. 'Ask Ish,' I said. If Ish named it, he would feel more connected to the project. 'How about Team India Cricket Shop?' Ish suggested. 'Great name,' I said and watched Ish smile for the first time that evening. 'Two rupees fifty paise each, guys,' I said as the auto stopped near my pol in Belrampur. 'Here you go Mr Accounts,' Ish said and passed his share. Two 'May Laxmi shower all blessings on you hardworking boys,' Omi's mother said before she left. 'It's beautiful,' Omi said as he joined me in looking at the board. Our first customer came at 12 noon. An under-ten boy strolled to the front of tennis in Belrampur, kids played cricket with them. 'How much for the balls?' The boy moved to local balls. Clearly this was a price'There,' he pointed in the general direction of the other temple shops. I picked The boys moved to the local basket. They, started the ball-bouncing routine again as my heart wept. 'So where do you play cricket?' Ish asked them. 'Satellite,' the elder boy said. Satellite was an upmarket neighbourhood on the other side of the Sabarmati river. 'What are you doing in the old city?' Ish said. 'We came to the temple. It is Harsh bhaiya's birthday,' the younger boy said. I realised we had struck real-estate gold. The temple was ancient and drew in people from the new city, too. And it was a birthday, every chance of pockets Harsh looked up at Ishaan. A grown-up man asking an eleven-year-old if he was a bowler or batsman was a huge honour. It meant he was now old enough to 'And now, whenever you attack, use the front leg to move forward but do not forget the back leg. That is your support, your anchor. Notice Tendulkar, he 'Mummy, I want the ball,' Chinu said. 'How much?' his mother said. 'Six rupees,' Ish said. She took out a twenty-rupee note and asked me to give two. 'I want the bat, mummy,' Harsh said. 'You already have a bat.' 'This one is better for my stance, mummy. Please.' Harsh took a stance again. 'Yes but beta, why buy something from this temple shop. Old city doesn't have good quality. We will go to the Navrangpura market.' 'It is excellent quality, aunty. We source from Kashmiri suppliers. Take my word,' Ish said.
  18. 18. 'Aunty' eyed us with suspicion. 'I was the team captain for all municipal schools in the area, aunty. I havepersonally chosen the bats,' Ish said with as much heart as Omi's dad said hisprayers. 'Please, mummy,' Harsh said and tugged at her saree. The tug connected to aunty's purse, which opened and brought out two hundred-rupee notes. Done. We had closed the deal of the day. The bat cost us a hundred and sixty, so forty bucks profit, I exclaimed mentally. 'Goodbye, champ.' Ish waved to Harsh. 'I'll come to your shop on my happy birthday,' Chinu said. 'Yes! You are amazing, Ish,' I said and hi-fived everyone. 'The kid is a quick learner. If he practices, he will be good. Of course, hismother will stuff him with studies the moment he reaches Class X. The onlystance he will take is to sit on a desk with his books,' Ish said. 'Don't be depressing, man,' I said. 'We made forty bucks on the bat and four on the two balls. We are forty-four bucks in profit, sir.' We sold some candy and two more balls in the next two hours. Our total profitfor the day was fifty bucks. We moved the bats and the ball baskets inside andclosed shop at 7.00 p.m., after the puja. To celebrate our opening we chose thechana-bhatura stall. At four bucks a plate, I could expense it to the business. 'Do I get to take some money home? I really want to give mom my first salary,' Omi said as he tucked in half a chili with his hot bhatura. Wait, this isn't real profit. This is contribution. We earn th rent first and then we will see.' I placed my empty plate back a the stall. 'Congrats guys, we are in business.' Three Months Later 'Eight thousand three, four and five hundred,' I said as I emptied the cashier'sbox. 'This is our profit for the first three months after paying rent. Not bad, notbad at all.' I was super-pleased. Our shop had opened at an opportune time. Thesummer vacations had started and India had won the one-day series with SouthAfrica. Kids with lots of time and patriotism flocked to Team India Cricket Shopthe day they received their pocket money. Some came even without money, if only to meet Ish and ge tips on cricket. Ididn't mind as it helped us pass the time. The dull aspect of opening a shop isboredom. We opened from nine to seven, and even with twenty customers a day itmeant only around two customers an hour. 'So we get our share now?' Omi said excitedly.
  19. 19. I divided the money into four stacks. The first three stacks were fifteenhundred rupees each - the money each of us could take home. The remainingfour thousand was to be retained in the business. 'What do you mean retained? What do we need to retain it for?' Ish questioned even as Omi happily counted his notes. 'Ish, we need to keep a war chest in case we want to renovate the store. Don't you want a better glass countertop? Or nice lighting?' Ish shook his head. 'Sure we do. And ... I have expansion plans,' I said. 'What?' 'There is a new shopping mall under construction at Navrangpura char rasta. If you book early, you can get a discount on renting a shop.' 'Renting? But we already have a shop,' Ish said, puzzled and irritated at the same time. I knew why Ish grumbled. He wanted to buy a TV for the shop, listening to matches on radio during shop hours was no fun. 'No Ish, a proper shop. Young people like to shop in swanky malls. That is thefuture. Our shop has been doing good business, hut we can't grow unless wemove to a new city location.' 'I like it here,' Omi said. 'This is our neighbourhood. What we sell is being used by kids in Nana Park.' 'I don't want this short-sighted mentality. I will open a store in a mall, and by next year have one more store. If you don't grow in business, you stagnate.' 'Another shop? What? We will not be working together?' Omi said. 'It is Govind's bullshit. We have only started and he already aspires to beAmbani. Can't we just buy a TV?' Ish said, 'Shah Electronics will give us oninstalment if we pay a down-payment of four thousand.' 'No way. We keep the four thousand for business.' 'Well, the TV belongs to the business, no?' Ish said. 'Yes, but it is a dead asset. It doesn't earn. We have a long way to go. Threethousand a month is nothing. And Ish doesn't let me keep notebooks andpencils...' 'I said this is a sports store. I don't want kids to think about studies when they come here.' Ish and I had argued about this before. I saw an easy opportunity, but Ish protested every time. 'Ok, here is a deal,' Ish said, 'I agree to the notebooks, not textbooks mind you,only notebooks. But we buy a TV. I have to watch matches. I don't care, here takemy fifteen hundred.' He threw his share of cash at me. Omi tossed in his money as well. As usual, I had to surrender to fools. 'Ok, but we need to increase the revenue. Target for next quarter is twenty
  20. 20. thousand bucks.' They ignored me as they discussed TV brands. I shook my head and outlined my strategy for increasing revenues. 'Will you do coaching classes?' I asked Ish. 'What?' 'Kids love your cricket tips. Why not do cricket coaching for a fee?' 'Me? I am not that good man. And where? In the temple?' 'No, we will do it inthe abandoned SBI compound.' 'Why? Aren't we making enough?' Omi said. 'Wecan never make enough. I want to get to fifty thousand a quarter. Omi, you cangive fitness training to the students.' 'So more work for us. What about you?' Ishsaid. 'I am going to start offering maths tuitions again.' 'Here?' 'Yes, a couple here, or in the SBI compound itself while you guys give cricket coaching.' Omi and Ish looked at me like I was the hungriest shark in the world. 'C'mon guys. I am making sure we have a solid healthy business.' 'It is ok. Just the shop is so boring, Ish,' Omi said. He was excited about making kids do push-ups. 'Yeah, at least I will get to hit the pitch,' Ish said. I tossed in my fifteen hundred, too, and we bought a TV the same day. We set itpermanently at the sports channel. Omi brought mats and cushions and spreadthem in front of the TV. On match days, we would all sit there until a customerarrived. I had to admit, it made the day go by much quicker. I changed the board on the shop. Under the 'Team India Cricket Shop', it alsosaid 'Stationery, Cricket Coaching and Maths Tuitions available'. I may not havediversified geographically, but I had diversified my product offering.
  21. 21. Three Apart from cricket, badminton was the other popular game in Belrampur. Infact, the girls only played badminton. It was an excellent turnover business.Shuttle cocks needed to be replaced, rackets needed rewiring and badmintonrackets didn't last as long as cricket bats. School stationery became the other hit item in the following weeks. Only somekids played sports, but every kid needed notebooks, pens and pencils, andparents never said no to that. Many times, someone buying a ball would buy anotebook, or the other way round. We offered a total solution. Soon, supplierscame to us themselves. They kept stuff on credit and returnable basis - chartpaper, gum bottles, maps of India, water bottles and tiffin boxes. It is only afteryou open a shop that you realise the length and breadth of the Indian studentindustry. We kept the cricket coaching and tuitions at the same price -250 rupees amonth. Customers for maths tuitions were easier to get, given the higher demandand my track record. I taught at the SBI compound building in the mornings. Ishused the compound grounds for the two students who signed up for crickettuitions. They were the best players in the Belrampur Municipal School and had fought with their parents to let them try coaching for three months. Of course, we still spent most of our time in the shop. 'Should we do greeting cards?' I wondered as I opened a sample packet left by a supplier. At five-rupee retail price and two-rupee cost price, cards had solid margins. However, people in Belrampur did not give each other greeting cards. 'This is in-swinger, and this is off-swinger. By the way, this is the third ball intwo weeks. What's up Tapan?' Ish asked a regular customer. Thirteen-year-oldTapan was one of the best bowlers of his age in the Belrampur Municipal School.Ish gripped the cricket ball and showed him the wrist movement. 'It is that nightmare Ali. Ball keeps getting lost with his shots. Why did he move to our school?' Tapan grumbled as he rubbed the ball on his shorts. 'Ali? New student? Haven't seen him here,' Ish said. All good players visited our store and Ish knew them personally. 'Yes, batsman. Just joined our school. You should come see him. He wouldn't come here, right?' Tapan said. Ish nodded. We had few Muslim customers. Most of them used other Hindu boys to make their purchases. 'You want to sign up for cricket tuitions. Ish will teach you, he played at the district level,' I could not help pitching our other service. 'Mummy will not allow. She said I can only take tuitions for studies. No sports coaching,' Tapan said. 'It is ok, have a good game,' Ish said, ruffling the boy's hair. 'You see this. That is why India doesn't win every match,' Ish said after Tapan left.
  22. 22. Yes, Ish has this ridiculous theory that India should win every match. 'Well, wedon't have to. It won't be much of a game otherwise,' I said and closed the cashbox. 'Our country has a billion people. We should always win,' Ish insisted. 'Statistically impossible.' 'Then why?' I said. 'Don't worry, we have them covered. Our shop now offers both.' 'It is not about the business Govind. Really, is this just about money for you?' 'Money is nice...' 'Whatever,' I shrugged. 'That is not true, Ish. Everyone needs a passion. I have mine.' shop?' 'Ok, ok, we will do a booze party,' I laughed. Omi and Ish had gripped me tight from both sides until I relented. 'Where is my son Omi?' Bittoo Mama entered our shop at (losing time and proceeded to hug his nephew. He held a box of sweets in a red velvet cloth. 'Where were you, Mama?' Omi said. Since the shop opened, he had never visited us. 'What is this, Omi? Wearing shoes?' Bittoo Mama's eyes were lined with kohl. He had a red tikka in the middle of his forehead. 'Mama?' Omi squeaked. I looked at my feet. I wore fake Reebok slippers. Ish 'Other shopkeepers are useless baniyas so you will also become like them? Do you do puja every morning before you open?' 'Yes, Mama,' Omi lied point-blank. 'You also,' Mama said, referring to Ish and me. 'You are Hindu hoys. You have your shop in such a pure place. At least remove your shoes, light a lamp.'
  23. 23. 'We come here to work, not to perform rituals,' I said. I now paid full rent every month to be in this shop. Nobody told me how to run my business. Mama looked surprised. 'What is your name?' 'Govind.' 'Govind what?' 'Govind Patel.' 'Hindu, no?' '1 am agnostic,' I said, irritated as I wanted to shut the shop and go home. 'Agno...?' 'He is not sure if there is God or not,' Ish explained. 'Doesn't believe in God? What kind of friends do you have Omi?' Mama was aghast. 'No, that is an atheist,' I clarified. 'Agnostic means maybe God exists, maybe he doesn't. I don't know.' 'You young kids,' Bittoo said, 'such a shame. I had come to invite you and look at you.' Omi looked at me. I turned my gaze away. 'Don't worry about Govind, Mama. He is confused.' I hate it when people takemy religious status for confusion. Why did I have to or not have to believe insomething? Ish offered the Frooti to Bittoo Mama. It softened him a little. 'What about you?' Mama asked Ish. 'Hindu, Mama. I pray and everything.' Ish said. Yeah right only when six balls were left in a match. Mama took a large sip and shifted his gaze to Omi and Ish As far as he was concerned I did not exist. What did you want to invite us for Mama?' Omi said. He lifted the red velvet cloth and unwrapped a three-foot-long brass trishul. Its sharp blades glinted under the shop's tubelight. 'It's beautiful. Where did you get it from?' Omi queried. 'It is a gift from Parekh-ji. He said in me he sees the party's future. I workedday and night. We visited every district in Gujarat. He said, if we have morepeople like Bittoo, people will be proud to be Hindu again. He made me therecruitment in-charge for young people in Ahmedabad.' Ish and I looked at Omi for footnotes. 'Parekh-ji is a senior Hindu party leader. And he heads the biggest temple trust in Baroda,' Omi said. 'What, he knows the CM or something, Mama?' 'Parekh-ji not only knows the CM, but also talks to him twice a day,' BittooMama said. 'And I told Parekh-ji about you, Omi. I see in you the potential toteach Hindu pride to young people.' 'But Mama, I'm working full time...'
  24. 24. 'I am not telling you to leave everything. But get in touch with the greaterresponsibilities we have. We are not just priests who speak memorised lines atceremonies. We have to make sure India's future generation understandsHindutva properly. I want to invite you to a grand feast to Parekh-ji's house. Youshould come too, Ish. Next Monday in Gandhinagar.' Of course, blasphemous me got no invitation. 'Thanks, Mama. It sounds great, but I don't know if we can,' Ish said. How come some people are so good at being polite. 'Why? Don't worry, it is not just priests. Many young, working people will also come.' 'I don't like politics,' Ish said. 'Huh? This isn't politics, son. This is a way of life.' 'I will come,' Omi said. 'But you should come too, Ish. We need young blood.' Ish stayed hesitant. 'Oh, you think Parekh-ji is some old, traditional man who will force you to read scriptures. Do you know where Parekh-ji went to college? Cambridge, and thenHarvard. He had a big hotel business in America, which he sold and came back.He talks your language. Oh, and he used to play cricket too, for the Cambridgecollege team.' 'I will come if Govind comes,' said Ish the idiot. Mama looked at me. In his eyes, I was the reason why Hindu culture had deteriorated lately. 'Well, I came to invite the three of you in the first place. He only said he doesn't believe in God.' 'I didn't say that,' I said. Oh, forget it, I thought. 'Then come.' Mama stood up. 'All three of you. I'll give Omi the address. It is the grandest house in Gandhinagar.' People called me Mr Accounts; greedy, miser, anything. But the fact is, I didorganise an all-expensepaid booze party to motivate my partners at the shop. Itis bloody hard to get alcohol in Ahmedabad, let alone bulky bottles of beer. One ofmy contacts - Romy Bhai - agreed to supply a crate of extra strong beer for athousand bucks. At 7 p.m. on the day of the party, Romi Bhai left the beer -wrapped in rags - atthe SBI compound entrance. I came to the gate and gave Romi Bhai the day'snewspaper. On the third page of the newspaper, I had stapled ten hundred-rupeenotes. He nodded and left. I dragged the cloth package inside and placed the bottles in the three ice-filledbuckets I had kept in the kitchen. I took out the bottle opener from the kitchenshelf, where we kept everything from Maggi noodles to boxes of crackers to burstwhen India won a match.
  25. 25. Another person may see the abandoned SBI branch as an eerie party venue.This used to be an old man's haveli. The owner could not repay and the bankforeclosed the property. Thereafter, the bank opened a branch in the haveli. Theowner's family filed a lawsuit after he died. The dispute still unresolved, thefamily obtained a court injunction that the bank could not use the property forprofit. Meanwhile, SBI realised that a tiny by lane in Belrampur was a terriblebranch location. They vacated the premises and gave the keys to the court. Thecourt official kept a key with Omi's dad, a trustworthy man in the area. This wasdone in case officials needed to view it and the court was closed. Of course, noone ever came and Omi had access to the keys. The property was a six-hundred square yard plot, huge by Belrampurstandards. The front entrance directly opened into the living room, now anabandoned bank customer service area. The three bedrooms on the first floorwere the branch manager's office, the data room and the locker room. The branch manager's office had a giant six-feet vault. We kept our cricket kit in the otherwise empty safe. We hung out most in the haveli's backyard. In its prime, it was the lawn of a rich family. As part of the bank branch, it was an under-utilised parking lot and now, our practice pitch. I rotated the beer bottles in the ice bucket to make them equally cold. Ish walked into the bank. 'So late,' I said. 'It is 8.30.' 'Sorry, watching cricket highlights. Wow, strong beer,' Ish said as he picked upa bottle. We had parked ourselves on the sofas in the old customer waiting areadownstairs. I reclined on the sofa. Ish went to the kitchen to get some bhujia. 'Omi here?' Ish said as he opened the packet. 'No, I am the only fool. I take delivery, clean up the place and wait for my lords to arrive.' 'Partners, man, partners,' Ish corrected. 'Should we open a bottle?' 'No, wait.' Omi arrived in ten minutes. He made apologies about his dad holding him back to clean the temple. Omi then prayed for forgiveness before drinking alcohol. 'Cheers!' all of us said as we took a big sip. It was bitter, and tasted only slightly better than phenyl. What is this? Is this genuine stuff?' Ish asked. We paused for a moment. Spurious alcohol is a real issue in Ahmedabad. 'Nah, nobody makes fake beer. It is just strong,' I said. If you filled your mouth with bhujia, the beer did not taste half as bad. In fact,
  26. 26. the taste improved considerably after half a bottle. As did everyone's mood.'I want to see this Ali kid. Three customers have mentioned him,' Ish said.'The Muslim boy?' Omi said. 'Stop talking like your Mama?' Ish scolded. 'Is that relevant? They say he has excellent timing.' 'Where does he play?' I enquired through a mouthful of bhujia. 'In our school. Kids say his most common shot is a six.' 'Let's go check him out. Looks like the school has your worthy successor,' 1 said. Ish turned silent. It was a sensitive topic and if it was not for the beer, I would not have said it. 'Succeeding Ish is hard,' Omi said. 'Remember the hundred against MahipMunicipal School, in sixtythree balls? No one forgets that innings.' Omi stood upand patted Ish's back again, as if the ten-year-old match had ended minutes ago. 'No one forgets the two ducks in the state selection trials either,' Ish said and paused again. 'Screw that, you were out of form, man,' Omi said. 'But those are the matches that fucking mattered, right? Now can we flip the topic?' Omi backed off and I gladly changed the subject. 'I think we should thank oursponsors for tonight The Team India Cricket Shop. In seven months ofoperation, our profit is 42,600 rupees. Of which, we have distributed 18,000 tothe partners and 22,000 is for the Navrangpura shop deposit. And the remaining2,600 is for entertainment like tonight. So, thank you, dear shareholders andpartners, and let's say cheers to the second bottle.' I took out the second bottle for each of us from the ice bucket.
  27. 27. 'Stud-boy,' Ish slurred, standing up, 'This business and its profit is all owed toStud-boy, Mr Govind Patel. Thank you, buddy. Because of you this dropoutmilitary cadet has a future. And so does this fool who'd be otherwise jingling bells in the temple all his life. Give me a hug, Stud-boy.' He came forward to give me a hug. It was drunk affection, but genuine enough. 'Will you do me one more favour buddy?' Ish said. 'What?' 'There is someone who wants maths tuitions,' Ish said. 'No, I am full, Ish. Seven students already...,' I said as Ish interrupted me. 'It is Vidya.' 'Your sister?' 'She finished Class XII. She is dropping a year now to prepare for the medical entrance.' 'You don't need maths to become a doctor.' 'No, but the entrance exams do. And she is awful at it. You are the best man, who else can I trust?' 'If it is your sister, then I mean...,' I took a breath. 'Wow, Vidya to join medical college? Is she that old now?' 'Almost eighteen, dude.' 'I teach younger kids though, class five to eight. Her course is more advanced. I am not in touch.' 'But you got a fucking century in that subject, dude. Just try she needs any help she can get.' I said nothing for a while, trying to remember what I knew of Vidya, which was little. 'What are you thinking. Oh, I know, Mr Accounts. Don't worry we will pay you,' Ish said and took a big sip. 'Shut up, man. It is for your sister. Ok, I'll do it. When do we start?' 'Can you start Monday ... no Monday is Parekh-ji's feast. Damn, Omi what the fuck are we going to do there?' 'The things we do to keep your Mama happy.' I couldn't wait to move to Navrangpura. 'Parekh ji is supposed to be a great man,' Omi said. 'And I always listen to you guys. Come for me this time.' 'Anyway, Tuesday then,' I said to Ish. 'So is she going to come to the bank?' 'Dad will never send her out alone. You come home.' 'What?' I said. Maybe I should have accepted a fee. 'Ok, I'll move some classes. Say seven in the evening?' 'Sure, now can you answer one maths question, Mr Accounts,' Ish said. 'What?'
  28. 28. 'You ordered a crate with ten bottles. We drank three each. Where is the tenth one?' Ish stood up swaying. I stood as well. 'The question is not where the tenth one is, but who does itbelong to.' I lunged for the ice bucket. Ish dived in as well. Cold water splashedon the floor as we tugged at the bottle. After a tensecond tiff, he released it. 'Take it, dude. What would I do without you?' Four Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. 'The food is excellent, no?' Omi returned. Food in Gujarat was always good. But still people keep saying it. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. 'I don't like Chinese,' Ish said. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'So he is a hybrid, a poli-priest,' I deduced. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt, Ish?' 'What? I am not...,' I protested to Omi. 'Shh ... just wear it,' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck. Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle once. Omi gave him a dirty look. Everyone closed their eyes,apart from me. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. They endedtheir chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. 'Welcome devotees, welcome to my humble home. I want to especially welcomethe team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. They have returned from karseva in Ayodhya for over a month. Let us bow to them and seek blessings.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. Parekh-ji continued, 'We also have some young people today. We need thembadly. Thanks to Bittoo Mama, who brought them. Bittoo is working hard for theparty. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. We nodded back. 'Devotees, the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. And we do bear a lot. So,today's discussion is How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindukeep bearing pain?' Everyone nodded. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others,' Parekh-ji said. 'They teach usacceptance of all faiths, even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach uspatience. Thousands of years ago, our wise men thought of such wonderfulvalues, valid even today. And today you great men pass on these values tosociety,' Parekhji said, gesturing at the priests. The priests nodded.
  29. 29. 'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. So at some point we are meant to fight back.When is that point is something to think about.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top, Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. 'And right now, I see that injustice again. Hindus being asked to compromise,to accept, to bear. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. Not anytemple, a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. But they won'tgive it to us. We said we will move the mosque respectfully, round the corner. Butno, that was considered unreasonable. We tried to submit proof; but that wassuppressed. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man, Idon't have the answers.' Ish whispered in my ear, 'It is politics, man. Just pure simple politics.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to.Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else - 700years by Muslims, 250 years by the British. We are independent now, but theHindu does not assert himself. But what makes me sad is that we are not eventreated as equals. They call themselves secular, but they give preference to theMuslims? We fight for equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are hardliners. More Hindu kidssleep hungry every night than Muslim, but they say Muslims are downtrodden.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. 'They say to me, Parekh-ji, why doyou know so many politicians? I say, I am a servant of God. I didn't want to joinpolitics. But if I as a Hindu want justice, I need to get involved in how the countryis rum. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So, here Iam half saffron, half white - at your service.'
  30. 30. The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'But there is hope. You know where this hope comes from - Gujarat. We are astate of businessmen. And you might say a hundred bad things about abusinessman, but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. He knowshow the parts add up, how the world works. We won't stand for hypocrisy orunfairness. That is why, we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. We are notcommunal, we are honest. And if we react, it is because we have been bearingpain for a long time.' The audience broke into full applause. I used the break to step out into thefront garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. Parekh-jispoke inside for ten more minutes, inaudible to me. I looked at the stars aboveand thought of the man on the velvet cushion. It was strange, I was bothattracted to and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras, followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. Ish came out. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said. I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She sat at her study table. Herroom had the typical girlie look - extra clean, extra cute and extra pink. Stuffedtoys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls ofthe room. I sat on the chair. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. Icouldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really,' she said. 'Algebra?' 'Nope.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. 'Really?' I said, disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. 'Actually, I don't like maths much.' 'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Mathscan be fun you know.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. 'Yes.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'Let me make myself clear. I positivelyhate maths. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches andlizards. I get disgusted, nauseated, and depressed by
  31. 31. it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk twomiles to get water in Rajasthan. I would trade my maths problems for that walk,everyday. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. What were theythinking? Language is too easy, so let's make up some creepy symbols andmanipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. Who cares if sin theta isdifferent from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?'
  32. 32. 'Wow, that's some reaction,' 1 said, my mouth still open. 'And fun? If maths is fun, then getting a tooth extraction is fun. A viral infection is fun. Rabies shots are fun.' 'I think you are approaching it the wrong way.' 'Oh ho ho, don't go there. I am not just approaching it. I have lived,compromised, struggled with it. It is a troubled relationship we have shared foryears. From classes one to twelve, this subject does not go away. People havenightmares about monsters. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. Iknow you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. But remember, in mostparts of the world maths means only one thing to students.' She stopped to breathe. I had the urge to get up and run away. How can I tame a wild beast? 'What?' 'Goosebumps. See I already have them,' she said, pulling her kameez sleeve upto her elbow. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from heremotional outburst than maths. I also noticed her thin arm. It was so fair you could see three veins runningacross. Her hand had deep lines, with an exceptionally long lifeline. Her fingersseemed long as they were so thin. She had applied a glittery silver-whitenailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. How do women come up with theseideas? 'What?' she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. I immediately opened a textbook. 'Nothing. My job is to teach you maths, not to make you like it. You want to be a doctor I heard.' 'I want to go to a college in Mumbai.' 'Excuse me?' 'I want to get out of Ahmedabad. But mom and dad won't let me. Unless, ofcourse, it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. Engineering hasmaths, maths means vomit so that is ruled out. Medicine is the other choice andmy exit pass. But they have this medical entrance exam and...' I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot, I wanted tocome to the point. 'So, which topic would you like to start with?' 'Anything without equations.' 'I saw your medical entrance exam course. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier.' I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. 'See this, probability,' I said. 'This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. Statistics is another ten per cent. No equations here, so can we start with this?'
  33. 33. 'Sure,' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. She kept two pensparallel to the notebook. She opened the first page of the probability chapter likeshe was the most diligent student in India. Most clueless, probably. 'Probability,' I said, 'is easily the most fun. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems.' 'Like what?' 'Like what what?' 'What everyday problems can you solve?' she quizzed, brushing aside a strand of hair.
  34. 34. 'Well, you are going ahead, but let's see.' I looked around for a11 easy example.I noticed her impeccably done-up room, tucked in pink bedsheets. On theopposite wall were posters of Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Hrithik Roshan. Next tothem was a wall of greeting cards. 'See those cards?' 'They are birthday cards from my school friends. I had my birthday two months ago.' I ignored the information overload. 'Say there are twenty of them. Most are white, though. Some are coloured. How many?' 'Five coloured ones,' she said, scanning the cards, her eyes asking 'so?' 'Cool, five. Now let's say I take all the cards Four Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. 'The food is excellent, no?' Omi returned. Food in Gujarat was always good. But still people keep saying it. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. 'I don't like Chinese,' Ish said. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'So he is a hybrid, a poli-priest,' I deduced. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt, Ish?' 'What? I am not...,' I protested to Omi. 'Shh ... just wear it,' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck.
  35. 35. Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle once. Omi gave him a dirty look. Everyone closed their eyes,apart from me. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. They endedtheir chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. 'Welcome devotees, welcome to my humble home. I want to especially welcomethe team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. They have returned from karseva in Ayodhya for over a month. Let us bow to them and seek blessings.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. Parekh-ji continued, 'We also have some young people today. We need thembadly. Thanks to Bittoo Mama, who brought them. Bittoo is working hard for theparty. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. We nodded back. 'Devotees, the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. And we do bear a lot. So,today's discussion is How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindukeep bearing pain?' Everyone nodded. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others,' Parekh-ji said. 'They teach usacceptance of all faiths, even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach uspatience. Thousands of years ago, our wise men thought of such wonderfulvalues, valid even today. And today you great men pass on these values tosociety,' Parekhji said, gesturing at the priests. The priests nodded. 'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. So at some point we are meant to fight back.When is that point is something to think about.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top, Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. 'And right now, I see that injustice again. Hindus being asked to compromise,to accept, to bear. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. Not anytemple, a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. But they won'tgive it to us. We said we will move the mosque respectfully, round the corner. Butno, that was considered unreasonable. We tried to submit proof; but that wassuppressed. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man, Idon't have the answers.' Ish whispered in my ear, 'It is politics, man. Just pure simple politics.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to.Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else - 700years by Muslims, 250 years by the British. We are independent now, but theHindu does not assert himself. But what makes me sad is that we are not eventreated as equals. They call themselves secular, but they give preference to theMuslims? We fight for
  36. 36. equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are hardliners. More Hindu kidssleep hungry every night than Muslim, but they say Muslims are downtrodden.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. 'They say to me, Parekh-ji, why doyou know so many politicians? I say, I am a servant of God. I didn't want to joinpolitics. But if I as a Hindu want justice, I need to get involved in how the countryis rum. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So, here Iam half saffron, half white - at your service.' The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'But there is hope. You know where this hope comes from - Gujarat. We are astate of businessmen. And you might say a hundred bad things about abusinessman, but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. He knowshow the parts add up, how the world works. We won't stand for hypocrisy orunfairness. That is why, we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. We are notcommunal, we are honest. And if we react, it is because we have been bearingpain for a long time.' The audience broke into full applause. I used the break to step out into thefront garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. Parekh-jispoke inside for ten more minutes, inaudible to me. I looked at the stars aboveand thought of the man on the velvet cushion. It was strange, I was bothattracted to and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras, followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. Ish came out. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said. I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She sat at her study table. Herroom had the typical girlie look - extra clean, extra cute and extra pink. Stuffedtoys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls ofthe room. I sat on the chair. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. Icouldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really,' she said. 'Algebra?' 'Nope.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. 'Really?' I said, disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. 'Actually, I don't like maths much.'
  37. 37. 'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Mathscan be fun you know.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. 'Yes.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'Let me make myself clear. I positivelyhate maths. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches andlizards. I get disgusted, nauseated, and depressed by it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk twomiles to get water in Rajasthan. I would trade my maths problems for that walk,everyday. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. What were theythinking? Language is too easy, so let's make up some creepy symbols andmanipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. Who cares if sin theta isdifferent from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?' 'Wow, that's some reaction,' 1 said, my mouth still open. 'And fun? If maths is fun, then getting a tooth extraction is fun. A viral infection is fun. Rabies shots are fun.' 'I think you are approaching it the wrong way.' 'Oh ho ho, don't go there. I am not just approaching it. I have lived,compromised, struggled with it. It is a troubled relationship we have shared foryears. From classes one to twelve, this subject does not go away. People havenightmares about monsters. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. Iknow you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. But remember, in mostparts of the world maths means only one thing to students.' She stopped to breathe. I had the urge to get up and run away. How can I tame a wild beast? 'What?' 'Goosebumps. See I already have them,' she said, pulling her kameez sleeve upto her elbow. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from heremotional outburst than maths. I also noticed her thin arm. It was so fair you could see three veins runningacross. Her hand had deep lines, with an exceptionally long lifeline. Her fingersseemed long as they were so thin. She had applied a glittery silver-whitenailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. How do women come up with theseideas? 'What?' she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. I immediately opened a textbook. 'Nothing. My job is to teach you maths, not to make you like it. You want to be a doctor I heard.' 'I want to go to a college in Mumbai.' 'Excuse me?' 'I want to get out of Ahmedabad. But mom and dad won't let me. Unless, ofcourse, it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. Engineering hasmaths, maths means vomit so that is ruled out. Medicine is the other choice andmy exit pass. But they have this medical entrance exam and...'
  38. 38. I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot, I wanted tocome to the point. 'So, which topic would you like to start with?' 'Anything without equations.' 'I saw your medical entrance exam course. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier.' I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. 'See this, probability,' I said. 'This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. Statistics is another ten per cent. No equations here, so can we start with this?' 'Sure,' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. She kept two pensparallel to the notebook. She opened the first page of the probability chapter likeshe was the most diligent student in India. Most clueless, probably. 'Probability,' I said, 'is easily the most fun. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems.' 'Like what?' 'Like what what?' 'What everyday problems can you solve?' she quizzed, brushing aside a strand of hair. 'Well, you are going ahead, but let's see.' I looked around for a11 easy example.I noticed her impeccably done-up room, tucked in pink bedsheets. On theopposite wall were posters of Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Hrithik Roshan. Next tothem was a wall of greeting cards. 'See those cards?' 'They are birthday cards from my school friends. I had my birthday two months ago.' I ignored the information overload. 'Say there are twenty of them. Most are white, though. Some are coloured. How many?' 'Five coloured ones,' she said, scanning the cards, her eyes asking 'so?' 'Cool, five. Now let's say I take all the cards Four Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. 'The food is excellent, no?' Omi returned. Food in Gujarat was always good. But still people keep saying it. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. 'I don't like Chinese,' Ish said. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'So he is a hybrid, a poli-priest,' I deduced. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt, Ish?' 'What? I am not...,' I protested to Omi. 'Shh ... just wear it,' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck.
  39. 39. Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle once. Omi gave him a dirty look. Everyone closed their eyes,apart from me. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. They endedtheir chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. 'Welcome devotees, welcome to my humble home. I want to especially welcomethe team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. They have returned from karseva in Ayodhya for over a month. Let us bow to them and seek blessings.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. Parekh-ji continued, 'We also have some young people today. We need thembadly. Thanks to Bittoo Mama, who brought them. Bittoo is working hard for theparty. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. We nodded back. 'Devotees, the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. And we do bear a lot. So,today's discussion is How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindukeep bearing pain?' Everyone nodded. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others,' Parekh-ji said. 'They teach usacceptance of all faiths, even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach uspatience. Thousands of years ago, our wise men thought of such wonderfulvalues, valid even today. And today you great men pass on these values tosociety,' Parekhji said, gesturing at the priests. The priests nodded. 'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. So at some point we are meant to fight back.When is that point is something to think about.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top, Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. 'And right now, I see that injustice again. Hindus being asked to compromise,to accept, to bear. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. Not anytemple, a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. But they won'tgive it to us. We said we will move the mosque respectfully, round the corner. Butno, that was considered unreasonable. We tried to submit proof; but that wassuppressed. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man, Idon't have the answers.' Ish whispered in my ear, 'It is politics, man. Just pure simple politics.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to.Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else - 700years by Muslims, 250 years by the British. We are independent now, but theHindu does not assert himself. But what makes me sad is that we are not eventreated as equals. They call themselves secular, but they give preference to theMuslims? We fight for
  40. 40. equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are hardliners. More Hindu kidssleep hungry every night than Muslim, but they say Muslims are downtrodden.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. 'They say to me, Parekh-ji, why doyou know so many politicians? I say, I am a servant of God. I didn't want to joinpolitics. But if I as a Hindu want justice, I need to get involved in how the countryis rum. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So, here Iam half saffron, half white - at your service.' The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'But there is hope. You know where this hope comes from - Gujarat. We are astate of businessmen. And you might say a hundred bad things about abusinessman, but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. He knowshow the parts add up, how the world works. We won't stand for hypocrisy orunfairness. That is why, we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. We are notcommunal, we are honest. And if we react, it is because we have been bearingpain for a long time.' The audience broke into full applause. I used the break to step out into thefront garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. Parekh-jispoke inside for ten more minutes, inaudible to me. I looked at the stars aboveand thought of the man on the velvet cushion. It was strange, I was bothattracted to and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras, followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. Ish came out. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said. I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She sat at her study table. Herroom had the typical girlie look - extra clean, extra cute and extra pink. Stuffedtoys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls ofthe room. I sat on the chair. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. Icouldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really,' she said. 'Algebra?' 'Nope.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. 'Really?' I said, disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. 'Actually, I don't like maths much.'
  41. 41. 'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Mathscan be fun you know.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. 'Yes.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'Let me make myself clear. I positivelyhate maths. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches andlizards. I get disgusted, nauseated, and depressed by it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk twomiles to get water in Rajasthan. I would trade my maths problems for that walk,everyday. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. What were theythinking? Language is too easy, so let's make up some creepy symbols andmanipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. Who cares if sin theta isdifferent from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?' 'Wow, that's some reaction,' 1 said, my mouth still open. 'And fun? If maths is fun, then getting a tooth extraction is fun. A viral infection is fun. Rabies shots are fun.' 'I think you are approaching it the wrong way.' 'Oh ho ho, don't go there. I am not just approaching it. I have lived,compromised, struggled with it. It is a troubled relationship we have shared foryears. From classes one to twelve, this subject does not go away. People havenightmares about monsters. I have nightmares about surprise maths tests. Iknow you scored a hundred and you are in love with it. But remember, in mostparts of the world maths means only one thing to students.' She stopped to breathe. I had the urge to get up and run away. How can I tame a wild beast? 'What?' 'Goosebumps. See I already have them,' she said, pulling her kameez sleeve upto her elbow. I thought the little pink dots on her skin were more from heremotional outburst than maths. I also noticed her thin arm. It was so fair you could see three veins runningacross. Her hand had deep lines, with an exceptionally long lifeline. Her fingersseemed long as they were so thin. She had applied a glittery silver-whitenailpolish only on the outer edge of the nails. How do women come up with theseideas? 'What?' she said as I checked out her arm for a moment too long. I immediately opened a textbook. 'Nothing. My job is to teach you maths, not to make you like it. You want to be a doctor I heard.' 'I want to go to a college in Mumbai.' 'Excuse me?' 'I want to get out of Ahmedabad. But mom and dad won't let me. Unless, ofcourse, it is for a prestigious course like medicine or engineering. Engineering hasmaths, maths means vomit so that is ruled out. Medicine is the other choice andmy exit pass. But they have this medical entrance exam and...'
  42. 42. I realised that Vidya did not have an internal pause button. And since I hadonly an hour and the tutorial equivalent of climbing Everest barefoot, I wanted tocome to the point. 'So, which topic would you like to start with?' 'Anything without equations.' 'I saw your medical entrance exam course. Looks like there are a few scoring areas that are relatively easier.' I opened the medical exam entrance guide and turned it towards her. 'See this, probability,' I said. 'This and permutations will be twenty-five per cent of the maths exam. Statistics is another ten per cent. No equations here, so can we start with this?' 'Sure,' she said and took out a brand new exercise book. She kept two pensparallel to the notebook. She opened the first page of the probability chapter likeshe was the most diligent student in India. Most clueless, probably. 'Probability,' I said, 'is easily the most fun. I say this because you can actually use the concepts in probability to solve everyday problems.' 'Like what?' 'Like what what?' 'What everyday problems can you solve?' she quizzed, brushing aside a strand of hair. 'Well, you are going ahead, but let's see.' I looked around for a11 easy example.I noticed her impeccably done-up room, tucked in pink bedsheets. On theopposite wall were posters of Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Hrithik Roshan. Next tothem was a wall of greeting cards. 'See those cards?' 'They are birthday cards from my school friends. I had my birthday two months ago.' I ignored the information overload. 'Say there are twenty of them. Most are white, though. Some are coloured. How many?' 'Five coloured ones,' she said, scanning the cards, her eyes asking 'so?' 'Cool, five. Now let's say I take all the cards Four Ish and 1 exchanged a what-are-we-doing-here glance. 'The food is excellent, no?' Omi returned. Food in Gujarat was always good. But still people keep saying it. Ish passed his Jain-dimsum to Omi. 'Who are these people?' I asked idly. 'I don't like Chinese,' Ish said. 'And who is Parekh-ji?' 'So he is a hybrid, a poli-priest,' I deduced. 'Can you be more respectful? And what is this T-shirt, Ish?' 'What? I am not...,' I protested to Omi. 'Shh ... just wear it,' Omi said and showed us how to wrap it around our neck.
  43. 43. Parekh-ji sat on his wonderful magic cushion. There was pin-drop silence. Ishcracked his knuckle once. Omi gave him a dirty look. Everyone closed their eyes,apart from me. I looked around while everyone chanted in Sanskrit. They endedtheir chants after a minute and Parekh-ji began his speech. 'Welcome devotees, welcome to my humble home. I want to especially welcomethe team on the right from the Sindhipur temple. They have returned from karseva in Ayodhya for over a month. Let us bow to them and seek blessings.' Everyone bowed to a group of six saffrons holding trishuls. Parekh-ji continued, 'We also have some young people today. We need thembadly. Thanks to Bittoo Mama, who brought them. Bittoo is working hard for theparty. He will support our candidate Hasmukh-ji for the election next year.' Everyone looked at us and gave smiling nods. We nodded back. 'Devotees, the Hindu religion teaches us to bear a lot. And we do bear a lot. So,today's discussion is How much bearing is enough? Until when does a Hindukeep bearing pain?' Everyone nodded. My knees were stiff with pain from sitting cross-legged. I wondered if I should stop bearing pain right then and stretch my legs. 'Our scriptures tell us not to harm others,' Parekh-ji said. 'They teach usacceptance of all faiths, even if those faiths do not accept us. They teach uspatience. Thousands of years ago, our wise men thought of such wonderfulvalues, valid even today. And today you great men pass on these values tosociety,' Parekhji said, gesturing at the priests. The priests nodded. 'At the same time, the scriptures also tell us not to bear injustice. The Gitatells Arjun to fight a virtuous war. So at some point we are meant to fight back.When is that point is something to think about.' Vigorous nods shook the crowd. Even though I found the whole gathering and the magic red cushion a bit over the top, Parekh-ji's logic was flawless. 'And right now, I see that injustice again. Hindus being asked to compromise,to accept, to bear. Hindus asked for the resurrection of one temple. Not anytemple, a temple where one of our most revered gods was born. But they won'tgive it to us. We said we will move the mosque respectfully, round the corner. Butno, that was considered unreasonable. We tried to submit proof; but that wassuppressed. Is this justice? Should we keep bearing it? I am just an old man, Idon't have the answers.' Ish whispered in my ear, 'It is politics, man. Just pure simple politics.' Parekh-ji continued: 'I don't even want to go into who this country belongs to.Because the poor Hindu is accustomed to being ruled by someone else - 700years by Muslims, 250 years by the British. We are independent now, but theHindu does not assert himself. But what makes me sad is that we are not eventreated as equals. They call themselves secular, but they give preference to theMuslims? We fight for
  44. 44. equal treatment and are called communal? The mostbrutal terrorists are Muslim, but they say we are hardliners. More Hindu kidssleep hungry every night than Muslim, but they say Muslims are downtrodden.' Parekh-ji stopped to have a glass of water. 'They say to me, Parekh-ji, why doyou know so many politicians? I say, I am a servant of God. I didn't want to joinpolitics. But if I as a Hindu want justice, I need to get involved in how the countryis rum. And what other way is there to get involved than join politics? So, here Iam half saffron, half white - at your service.'
  45. 45. The audience gave a mini applause, including Omi. Ish and I were too overfed to react. 'But there is hope. You know where this hope comes from - Gujarat. We are astate of businessmen. And you might say a hundred bad things about abusinessman, but you cannot deny that a businessman sees reality. He knowshow the parts add up, how the world works. We won't stand for hypocrisy orunfairness. That is why, we don't elect the pseudo-secular parties. We are notcommunal, we are honest. And if we react, it is because we have been bearingpain for a long time.' The audience broke into full applause. I used the break to step out into thefront garden of Parekh-ji's house and sit on an intricately carved swing. Parekh-jispoke inside for ten more minutes, inaudible to me. I looked at the stars aboveand thought of the man on the velvet cushion. It was strange, I was bothattracted to and repelled by him. He had charisma and lunacy at the same time. After his speech there were a few more closing mantras, followed by two bhajans by a couple of priests from Bhuj. Ish came out. 'You here?' 'Can we go home?' I said. I reached Ishaan's house at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. She sat at her study table. Herroom had the typical girlie look - extra clean, extra cute and extra pink. Stuffedtoys and posters with cheesy messages like 'I am the boss' adorned the walls ofthe room. I sat on the chair. Her brown eyes looked at me with full attention. Icouldn't help but notice that her childlike face was in the process of turning into a beautiful woman's. 'So which areas of maths are you strong in?' 'None really,' she said. 'Algebra?' 'Nope.' 'Trigonometry?' 'Whatever.' 'Calculus?' She raised her eyebrows as if I had mentioned a horror movie. 'Really?' I said, disturbed at such indifference to my favourite subject. 'Actually, I don't like maths much.' 'Hmmm,' I said and tried to be like a thoughtful professor. 'You don't like itmuch or you don't understand a few things and so you don't like it yet? Mathscan be fun you know.' 'Fun?' she said with a disgusted expression. 'Yes.' She sat up straight and shook her head. 'Let me make myself clear. I positivelyhate maths. For me it occupies a place right up there with cockroaches andlizards. I get disgusted, nauseated, and depressed by
  46. 46. it. Between an electric shockor a maths test, I will choose the former. I heard some people have to walk twomiles to get water in Rajasthan. I would trade my maths problems for that walk,everyday. Maths is the worst thing ever invented by man. What were theythinking? Language is too easy, so let's make up some creepy symbols andmanipulate them to haunt every generation of kids. Who cares if sin theta isdifferent from cos theta? Who wants to know the expansion of the sum of cubes?'

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